RETROSPECULATIVE TV: The Tick: “Pilot” (Episode 1)

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All B5 and no play makes Kevin a dull bot. Seriously: it’s been like six months since I’ve done a “Retrospeculative TV” review that *wasn’t* about B5, and as much as I love the show, my obsession is even beginning to wear thin on me. Added to which, this feature was intended to showcase smaller, overlooked, obscure series, and not stuff people done to death online. B5 definitely isn’t that. In fact, we decided to do it because we were rotating through a lot of short-run series (Man From Atlantis, Quark, Max Headroom) and it seemed like a good idea to have a longer series in the rotation, just to provide contrast and meter. A rhythm track if you will.

Alas, we kinda’ ran out of short run series, and B5 went from being a once-in-three-weeks treat to being an endless chore. Even when it’s good - and the last batch have been really good - I just need some relief. I mean, you start out eating Oreos, and you think “Wow, the sweetened lard is the best part!” and then you buy doublestuffs. And then you experiment with home-made quadruplestuffs, and then you bring in the putty tools and get up to octuplestuffs, and then you just dispense with the cookie pretense entirely, and you’re just shoveling the stuff down with a spoon. And then you realize, “Hey, I’m just eating lard! Which is still pretty good and all, but, dude!”

I call this the “Lard Awareness Horizon.” For me, personally, it happened during the Talia Trilogy of Tedium a few weeks back, and I really haven’t recovered yet. So, in a desperate bid to insert a cookie back into the hyper-arterioscleroticized…uhm…brain? Heart? Whatever. See? See what I mean? I can’t even come up with a good, ridiculously tendentious metaphor. That sucks! I need a cookie!

Anyway, so I decided to start reviewing the short-lived live-action “The Tick” series from 2001. B5 will be back next week, then The Tick, then B5, until we’re through The Mighty Blue Arachnid of Justice, then it’s just B5, until I get bored or whatever.


The Tick is hanging out in a bus station in the middle of nowhere, driving everyone crazy. He’s beating up ‘evil’ coffee machines (“Empty your bladder of that bitter black liquid men call coffee!”), narrating his life (“He stands silently, like a god”) and just basically freaking everyone out. Eventually the station manager convinces The Tick that he was just on his way to The City. Given that The Tick is about as sharp as a bag full of wet hair, he falls for it.

MEANWHILE, actually *in* The City (That’s it’s name, by the way, “The City.”) an accountant named Arthur has worn his superhero costume (White body suit, antennae, backpack, goggles, retractable wings) to work, and is freaking everyone out. His boss, mister Fishladder (Which is so great a name that I ripped it off for a character in one of my own stories which you can read here ) fires him. Drowning his troubles in a local Superhero Bar, “The Happy Panda,” Arthur decides to head home and begin a new life as a hero, y’know, tomorrow. He’s had a lot to drink, though, and en rout he accidentally pukes on a bunch of Soviet Terrorists who are inexplicably preparing to “Continue their war against the United States Postal System.” This goes about as well as you’d expect it to: they grab Arthur, and are threatening to beat him up so badly that he’ll need a machine to poop (A running gag in this episode is that that’s what happened to the last guy from Arthur’s accounting firm who came out of the Superhero Closet). Arthur shrieks.

The Tick has managed to make it to The City by this point, and is bounding around from rooftop to rooftop when he hears Arthur’s scream. “My first damsel in distress call!” He rushes to help, is disappointed to find that Arthur’s a dude, but helps out anyway. In the process, however, he inadvertently activates and releases “The Red Scare,” the most amazing soviet super weapon 1979 had to offer.

Arthur sees the robot go slouching off, and attempts to do something about it, but then Bat Manuel - The City’s low-rent Hispanic nightclubbing knockoff of Batman - and Captain Liberty - a VASTLY hotter version of Wonder Woman - show up, and get to bickering with each other, then making out, and The Tick steps in gum, which really grosses him out. Arthur is disgusted by this, realizes he’s ruined his life, and shuffles off.


The Tick thinks Arthur might be on to something with this whole “Killer Robot” thing, so he follows him home with one of Soviets in tow. The Prisoner explains that the machine was built with the intent of killing Jimmy Carter, and that they’d meant to re-program it to kill the postmaster general, but, alas, The Tick interrupted them. As it happen, Jimmy Carter is visiting The City that very night.

“What are the odds!”

They rush off to save his life, getting in an argument in a VERY long elevator ride about Arthur’s fears about getting hurt really, really badly, and culminating with him screaming at The Tick “I don’t want to have to poop with a machine” Just as the doors open in front of a properly mortified Ex-President. Tick snatches him away from the secret service guys, and all seems well until The Red Scare smashes through the roof of the car and tries to kill him, which results in your typical comedic superhero smack down while Jimmy yells “Help! Sweet Lord! Men in wrestling tights! We’re all gonna’ die!” and so forth. Arthur flies him to safety, the elevator crashes to the ground destroying The Red Scare, but merely annoying The Tick.

Back at The Happy Panda, The Tick and Arthur are basking in the envy of Bat Manuel (Who has a broken arm) and Captain Liberty (Who broke his arm because “I came to my senses” and “You don’t get past second base with this one.”)

The End


Maybe it’s just six months of B5 talking, but this was a LOT funnier than I remembered. Which is to say it was funny at all. I remember being blisteringly un-amused by it when it first ran eleven years ago. I think part of that was that The Tick comics were at pretty close to their highest ebb creatively, and the cartoon series was still recent enough that it cast an unfair comparison to the series. At this distance, it holds up better. Of course it could also be that I had no expectations whatsoever this time out.

I really like the way they did Arthur, which is in the spirit of the Comic/Cartoon character in all the meaningful ways, while not being beholden to the minutiae. And the costume is goofy looking without being flat-out embarrassing.

Patrick Warburton is about as good as a human cold possibly be as The Tick. I don’t like that we see his face, but the rest of the costume - and the antennae! - is great. He plays the part somewhere between the cartoon version and Adam West’s hyper-campy Batman, but without the self-awareness. (Adam *knew* he was doing a stupid guy’s impression of a smart guy. The Tick doesn’t.) Of course Warburton is way shorter than the Tick’s 7’11”, but they make up for this somewhat by building all the sets with unusually low ceilings, narrow doors, undersized chairs and things. It help that the rest of the cast is on the diminutive size, so it makes him look a bit too big for the surroundings, while everyone else looks about right. Clever.

Man, this is a dingy-looking show. Honestly, does Arthur live in a slum?

Liz Vassey was, at this exact moment in time, the absolute most gorgeous woman in the world, and she doesn’t seem particularly shy about showcasing it. At the same time, despite playing Wonder Woman’s hotter, smarter sister, she doesn’t seem particularly slutty, which is actually quite a trick. “The Hot Chick In Revealing Clothes” is pretty easy. “The Hot Bitchy Chick in Revealing Clothes” is even easier. “The Hot Bitchy Kickass Chick In Revealing Clothes That Doesn’t Immediately Make You Roll Your Eyes And Switch Over To Friends On NBC” is harder. I’d only seen her once prior to The Tick (In this:
Terrible, but, again, she ain’t shy, and yet she still manages to be not embarrassing), but I totally fell in love with her.

Nestor Carbonel, probably best known to geeks like us as “Richard” from “Lost,” plays a trust-fund Eurotrash version of Batman. This was actually pretty clever, in that making him an American Hispanic would have lent itself to unfortunate stereotypes pretty quickly. Making him a Spaniard, however, makes him fair game for snobby, lazy, cowardly European slurs while making him completely immune from Mexican/Cuban/Puerto Rican ones.

“Captain Liberty” and “Bat Manuel” are both versions of characters from the cartoon, “American Maid” and “Die Fledermaus,” respectively. And yes, the cartoon names are both way, way better. The characters were funnier, too. In the cartoon, ’Maus” got into it to pick up chicks, and wear revealing clothing in public. He mostly stands around posing, and runs away whenever danger rears. “American Maid” is a kickass babe (Named Janet) who utterly detests Maus, but kinda maybe finds him attractive. In this version, “Captain Liberty” (Also named “Janet”) is a kickass babe who utterly hates Manuel, but who can’t keep her hands off him. And he’s just a preening trust fund kid. It’s sexed up, but not as funny, mostly ’cuz Die Fledermaus got better lines. But I don’t care ’cuz it’s got a 29-year-old Liz Vassey in a costume that probably shows off more than half of her breasts, and frankly, at the end of the day, that was *all* that I remembered about this show. That, and that it wasn’t very funny.

And yet it was. My original opinions were just wrong.

I should mention that neither Liberty/Maid nor Manuel/Fledermaus were in the comics in any form. In those, Tick and Arthur either hang out by themselves, or team up with whatever random lunatic happens to be handy. They needed a more regular set of foils to play off of for the show, however.

A lot of scenes in the pilot came out of the first episode of the Cartoon, or the early eps of the comic book, or were obvious variations on the theme. Arthur getting fired was straight out of the cartoon, as was him watching Tick beat people up, and Bat Manuel’s first appearance. The “Red Scare” plot is a variation on The Tick’s first superhero battle from the comics, in which, after wandering around with no conflict for six issues, he stumbles on “The Red Scare” scam. (Up-and-coming heroes can rent a super villain called “The Red Scare” to show up, break some stuff, and take a dive when the hero shows up, thereby ensuring some buzz and an appearance on the evening news. The Tick stumbles into this, not realizing it’s a scam, beats the living crap out of a poor unemployed wrestler playing the part (“Stalin was keen!”) *AND* ruins the career of a Flash wannabe).

One scene from The Comic that would have fit great, but didn’t make it, is when Arthur excitedly invites The Tick into his apartment, and then the two guys realize they don’t actually *know* each other, and they’re just guys wearing body stockings, all alone, and it gets awkward, and they both start worrying that the other person might be gay.

Tick: “Are you…uhm…you know…that…uhm…that way?”
Arthur: “Me? No! Nonononono! No!”
Tick: “Good. Good.”
Arthur: “Are…uhm…you?”
Tick: “No! Nope! No. Not at all.”
Arthur: “Phew.”
[Long pause]
Tick: “Superheroes shouldn’t be.”

I mention this because there’s a long-running superhero-as-gay metaphor in the comic and this show (And to a lesser extent in the cartoon), with people talking about Supherodom as “An alternative lifestyle” and “Coming out of the superhero closet” and “Superhero bars” and stuff like that. Most of this is genuinely pretty funny. Funnier, I think, than if it had been done in the “It’s OK to be Gay” here-and-now, and far funnier than if it had been done in the “Kill All Fags” 80s. The Tick falls into the long transitional phase where it wasn’t accepted, but you kind of didn’t want to be mean or judgemental either, which just made the whole thing really awkward. Awkward = comedy.

Man, the Carter scenes were cheap. What, they couldn’t find a lookalike? They had to film ‘em really tight to hide his face. That limited some of the fun of the fight scene. And MAN that was a long elevator shaft! I can only assume that was this iteration of The City’s version of “The Altitudinous Building,” the largest free-standing structure in The City.

Man, the music was really weak.

I guess that’s it.


Yeah, why not? It’s funny, it slams Jimmy Carter in a backhanded way, and, again: Liz Vassey. She’s my generations Kari Whurer, only without the paint. Or general sluttyness. Or co-hosting stint on Remote Control.

Incidentally, on this date in 1980, I was in Sarasota, Florida, on vacation with my family when a HUGE storm rolled in and basically flooded the entire west coast of the state. Went to bed and it was a bit rainy, woke up and there was water all the way from the beach to several hundred feet inland. Man, that was fun!